Marlins Manager Don Mattingly on Opening Day
Jose Fernandez spent the better part of the afternoon being his usual animated self.
Fernandez joked with teammates, and then took batting practice with them as they prepared for their first game of the season.
Fernandez didn’t join them on the mound, however, as new Marlin Wei-Yin Chen made his debut with the club Tuesday night.
The spotlight will shift to Fernandez on Wednesday.
Fernandez has never lost at home and will try to keep that record intact when he opens his season in the second game against the Tigers, matching up against former Marlin Anibal Sanchez.
“Any day you can go out there and get a chance to put on a major league uniform you feel lucky,” Fernandez said. “I feel great, ready to go. The chemistry on our team this year is fantastic. It’s a nice way to start a year.”
The Marlins announced during the latter part of spring training that Fernandez would start the second game, stating it was part of an innings plan to keep their 23-year-old ace healthy and pitching for a full season.
The Marlins signed Chen, who has made at least 30 starts in three of his first four seasons in the majors, to a five-year, $80 million deal in the offseason.
Chen and Fernandez could make a formidable 1-2 punch this season at the top of the team’s rotation, which returns Tom Koehler and Jarred Cosart and added lefty Adam Conley, who will start the first road game Thursday in Washington.
“We feel like we’re built on our pitching with Wei-Yin and Jose up top,” said Michael Hill, Marlins’ president of baseball operations. “It was great to see Conley build on that productive finish to last season and really take the third spot in the rotation.”
Fernandez has not pitched a full season since 2013 when he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year, made the All-Star team and finished third in the Cy Young voting.
Fernandez made the only Opening Day start of his young career the following season.
But that campaign was cut short when he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Fernandez returned on July 2nd last year and went 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts despite missing over a month with a biceps strain. At home, Fernandez went 5-0 in six starts with a 2.57 ERA.
The Marlins have said they have a plan in place for Fernandez in the hopes he can periodically pick up an extra day of rest and likely pitch in the range of 180 innings, which could mean he’d make 28 or 29 starts.
“We’ve talked about it and we’re going to use common sense with that range,” Hill said. “Jose is excited and ready to go.”
Fernandez is 17-0 at home, which is the longest streak for a pitcher at home in the modern era to start a career, and has a career 1.40 ERA in 26 starts.
Fernandez has looked strong throughout the spring and has said his arm has felt good with no setbacks.
In an exhibition start Friday against the Yankees at Marlins Park, Fernandez’s fastball topped at 98 mph and he mixed solid use of his curveballs, striking out seven in a three-inning, 50-pitch outing.
Fernandez said after the game he treated his outing as if it already counted being back in the ballpark in which he has been so successful.
“I’m happy to be home and pitching [at Marlins Park] in front of the fans,” Fernandez said that night. “I’m really happy to be home.”